Guide. Andrew Merilees grew up on Vancouver Island, and might have gone back after attending university in Prince George if not for meeting a Haida Gwaii girl. Instead, he ended up making his home in Haida Gwaii, where he has been for more than 15 years.
Andrew’s father, who still lives on Vancouver Island, used to lead tour groups (he called them “field trips”) to Haida Gwaii for more than a decade. When he stopped, acquaintances of his father who knew that Andrew lived on Haida Gwaii would call him to ask for insider information or to take them to the places of local interest that aren’t necessarily advertised in the tourist brochures. Pretty soon Andrew realized he had a tourism business, and in 2002 he officially launched Haida Gwaii Discovery Tours. Through this business, we found Andrew and have had him meeting and touring with our guests/
Andrew always gets a thrill out of showing visitors all of the natural wonders that make Haida Gwaii special. Andrew, who also happens to be the mayor of the Village of Masset, has always been adamant that Masset “has everything you need and nothing you don’t! There’s so much to enjoy here. We are perfectly positioned for all kinds of natural activities”, says Andrew. “There is a lot of opportunity on the islands.”
Naturalist. Cecil Paul is an elder of the Killer Whale Clan of the Henaaksiala people. Born and raised in the Kitlope, Cecil was taken to residential school when he was ten. Since then his life has been a rich tapestry of experience that, combined with his incredible spirit, has made him one of the wisest people we know. Cecil was a key player in the fight to preserve the Kitlope Heritage Conservancy as a park (it is now the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet). He was also instrumental in the long search for a lost pole taken from the Kitlope estuary in the early 1900s and returned to his people in 2006. A leader in his community, Cecil teaches the youth of Kitamaat about the Huchsduwachsdu (Gardner Canal), Kemaano and the Kitlope, and we are honoured that he has travelled with us into the Kitlope each year.
Brewing Historian. Historian, museum director, beer consultant and raconteur, Greg Evans is known in many circles as a man who knows a lot and makes it fun to learn from. He is an active member of the Victoria chapter of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and is the former executive director of the Museum of Vancouver. As well, Greg was previously executive director of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and the B.C. Museums Association, president of the Heritage Council for B.C., and a member of many boards and cultural organizations. His masters thesis is on the Vancouver Island brewing industry from 1858-1917. His extensive knowledge is enhanced by a quick wit, as evidenced in the names of some of his lectures, including our favourite “Hic Hic Hooray: How Canadians Kept Americans Wet During Prohibition”
Elder. A trip with Florence is a special experience. As a child, Florence was regarded as a keeper of her people’s memory, and she carries with her the history of Galiano Island, Kuper, Thetis, Valdez, and Saltspring Islands, as well as many more in the Salish Sea.
She can evoke for guests the ways her people viewed the land and the sea, life philosophy, how canoe trees were tended, where villages were situated, the names and history of each place including great flood stories, when and how people travelled by canoe between the islands, and what has happened since European contact.
Three human figures wearing high hats are often carved at the very top of Haida poles. In the past, Haida watchmen were posted at strategic positions around a village to raise the alarm in advance of an approaching enemy.
The carved figures crowning the monumental poles stood sentinal over the village. The three carved watchmen form the symbol adopted by the Haida for the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program.
Today the Haida Gwaii Watchmen have their own management structure and they are funded by Parks Canada.
From May to October the program has provided seasonal employment for Haida men and women as young as 16 and as old as 78. For many visitors, meeting the watchmen is their favourite part of a memorable trip to Haida village sites.
They offer a first-hand introduction to Haida culture by sharing their knowledge of the land and sea, their stories, songs, dances and traditional foods.
As part of our relationship, when they are available, one or more leaders of the community have come to share the history and the Heiltsuk knowledge of the Great Bear Rainforest with our guests, at the start of trips.
This insight and connection has proved a valuable and powerful way to start trips in this spectacular area.
Since the tourism program began in Klemtu, Maple Leaf and her guests have enjoyed a wonderful welcome in the community by the local residents.
On virtually every Great Bear Rainforest trip, we stop at Klemtu to walk the village to the spectacular big house for a tour by a resident and then spend some time over a coffee or a meal with others.
Marven Robinson is a Gitga’at bear guide and and elected councillor on the Hartley Bay Band Council of the Gitga’at nation. Marven was involved in the design and set-up of the spirit bear viewing stands at a local island frequented by spirit bears (along with Wayne McCrory of the Valhalla Wilderness Society and others).
Marven has been guiding people in the region and knows individual bears very well. As part of our commitment to eco-tourism, we have worked with Marven since he began guiding at the bear stands (and now in other areas, too). Marven’s knowledge about the bears, as well as his community perspective, is a highlight for our guests.
Hermann and Janie at Cetacealab
We have one purpose, to protect and research whales along the coast of BC. In 2001 we established Cetacea Lab, a land based whale research station located at Whale Point on the southern end of Gil Island. Since that time we have contributed to the conclusion that this location needs to be established as Critical Habitat for Humpback Whales and as a candidate for Critical Habitat for Killer Whales.
Since our arrival in 2001 we have established an increasing resident population of Humpback Whales. This year will publish our first peer reviewed paper describing this information in detail.
We have developed a Humpback Whale Photo ID Catalogue for whales resident to this particular area. This book will also speak of the strong social and established feeding bonds between humpback whales we have observed over the last decade as well the great mystery of the ancient humpback whale song that has been evolving for centuries.
We have developed a strong relationship of respect and friendship with the Gitga’at, first nations people of Hartley Bay. Together we now combine our efforts and research to initiate solutions that encourage a balance between nature and industry.
Over the last decade we have built an acoustic library and photographic catalogue of every orca sighting from Caamano Sound to Douglas Channel. Working with colleagues such as John Ford and Graeme Ellis we believe this information will help declare Caamano Sound critical habit for killer whales!!
We have established an interpretive center as well a new research station at Whale Point. The station is now open for volunteers around the world to join as research assistants and participate in many of our new research programs.
As always we continue to inspire awareness For Whales as the true Guardians of our Oceans.
We hope you will follow this journey with us as we discover and learn from these gentle giants we call whales.